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On Your Mark, Get Set, Think! How computer brain training helps Olympians>
Friday, September 22, 2000
By Marian Jones
Forget steroids and blood doping. How about some mental exercise for the Olympic athlete looking to boost performance?
It's called Neurofeedback, a computer brain training technique that has been around for decades. Supporters say it trains the brain to focus more intently and for longer periods through practiced patterns of concentration, leading to greater physical activity.
"It's almost like lifting weights," explained Dr. Daniel Kuhn, a New York psychiatrist who uses the technique with patients. "You're actually flexing the brain muscles as you look at your own brainwave activity on the screen."
The system once required the expertise of a trained EEG technician, which put it beyond the reach of most. But Jonathan Cowan, a Goshen, Ky., psychologist and neurofeedback specialist, has developed the Peak Achievement Trainer®, a simple Windows-based computer program that allows just about anyone with a personal computer to work on concentration.
U.S. Olympic swimmer Chad Carvin was among the first to try the system, and he said the Peak Achievement Training® system helped him stay in "the Zone" of peak athletic concentration.
The 'microbreak' is crucial to mental performance.
But what effect does Cowan's machine have on the everyday athlete? FOXNews.com decided to give it a try.
Strapped to the contraption in Kuhn's New York office, with eyes closed, we pretended to lunge into midair, splash into the pool, hear the roar of the crowd and pull through a 100-meter race in powerful, rhythmic strokes. Then we opened our eyes.
The machine showed the brain wave zigzags across the computer screen, evening out into a nearly straight line of what were the moments of most intense concentration. There, too, was the spike in brain wave activity at the moment of distraction.
Such concentration lapses, like breaths during a swimming stroke, are necessary to help you perform at an optimum level, according to Kuhn. He calls them "microbreaks," and emphasizes the importance of learning to control them when you take these inevitable pauses in concentration.
We tried another test, this one an imaginary basketball free throw. Like it did during the swimming maneuver, the machine showed periods of intense concentration that were interrupted by a blip of distraction.
Testing on the Peak Achievement Trainer® produced no immediate side effects, other than a mild headache similar to the kind you can get from studying too much. Two days later, however, the experience seemed to help in maintaining concentration levels at work.
And what of Carvin, the Olympian whose training on the Peak Achievement he credits with boosting his swim times?
He was eclipsed at the Games in Sydney by the likes of superswimmers Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband, proving, if nothing else, that it takes more than brain control to sprint past the wake of a champion.
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